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Dhaka Tribune

A cause for concern?

Update : 23 Feb 2014, 06:59 PM

Unofficial results show that in the first phase of the polls held on February 19 in 97 upazila parishads (UPs), the BNP-backed candidates won 44 chairman posts against 34 by the AL-supported candidates. This means BNP-supported candidates got 45% of the chairman posts in the first phase of the UP polls. Jamaat-e-Islami, a key ally of the BNP-led alliance, won 12 chairman posts.

So, 59% of the chairman posts in 97 UPs have gone to the followers of the ruling AL’s arch rivals. The BNP-backed candidates also won more vice-chairman posts than those backed by the AL. They won 72 of 192 vice-chairman posts, including those reserved for women. The AL-backed favourites secured 63 vice-chairman posts while candidates supported by the Jamaat won 30 vice-chairman posts. This means that the supporters of the BNP-led alliance won 53% of the vice-chairman posts in the first phase of the UP polls.    

BNP, which boycotted the January 5 10th national election, decided to participate in the fourth UP polls, taking into consideration certain factors.

Firstly, the upazila is one of the local bodies. The national and local-body elections are quite different in nature. Change in regime comes through the national election, which does not happen in local-body polls.

Secondly, by joining the UP polls, BNP wanted to invigorate its frustrated grassroots-level leaders and activists, and re-establish its influence on local politics. Thirdly, successes in the five city corporation polls held last year, and the people’s “low response” to the January 5 election convinced the party high-ups that the BNP-backed candidates had a strong possibility to win the polls in most UPs, given there was no election–engineering.

Finally, BNP took the UP election as a challenge. The party leaders believed that the voters would express their anger created over a “farcical, lopsided general election” through casting their ballots in favour of BNP-supported candidates. Their possible overwhelming success would mount pressure on the government to hold a fresh general election.

BNP’s decision to participate in the UP polls angered the ruling AL. The prime minister said that Khaleda Zia “missed the national train and now catches the upazila train.” While speaking at a function in the capital, the industries minister asked the BNP to explain why they were taking part in the UP polls under Sheikh Hasina, when they boycotted the 10th

national election in protest of her heading the interim administration. He called the BNP’s joining the UP polls a “new conspiracy.” Some other AL leaders termed the BNP’s joining the UP election a political defeat for Khaleda.

Questions may arise as to why the AL leaders were so worried about the BNP’s participation in the ongoing UP polls. We don’t have to look too far for the answers. The non-participation of BNP in the 10th general elections gave the AL-led alliance an easy victory. The AL alone got more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament. The AL leaders hoped that BNP’s boycott of the UP polls would lead to similar results. But things did not go according to their wishes this time.

In the absence of an elected zila parishad (district council), the UP is now the most important tier in the rural local government system. The government may face a serious challenge in implementing its programs, both developmental and non-developmental, at the upazila level, if the majority of the posts of chairman and vice-chairman in the UPs go to candidates supported by the BNP and Jamaat.

As the most important tier in the rural local government system, the upazila acts as the “communication bridge” between the central and grassroots leaders of the political parties. If the trend set up in the first phase of polls continues, and the AL-backed candidates fail to secure majority posts of chairman and vice-chairman in the UPs, it may adversely affect the organisational work of the AL at the grassroots level.

According to the Upazila Parishad Act passed during the period of the immediate past AL-led grand alliance government, the local MP is the advisor to the UP. In fact, he has the last say in all matters of the UP. If the majority posts of chairman go to BNP-Jamaat-supported candidates, it will (a) worsen the relations between the MPs and the chairmen, and (b) take the movement for abolishing the advisory role of the MPs in the UPs to a new height, and the government may not have any alternative but to accept their demand.

The victory of BNP-Jamaat-supported candidates in the UP polls will mean unpopularity for the ruling AL at the grassroots level. Recent online polls conducted by some dailies on the basis of the results of the first phase of the polls seem to lend support in that direction. If so, this may prove costly for the ruling AL in the next general election.

All this makes it clear as to why the AL was worried regarding the decision of BNP to participate in the fourth UP polls. Although the results of the UP polls have so far not gone the way AL would have expected, the party has something to be cheerful about.

The AL thinks that, irrespective of the poll results, BNP’s participation in this election is a major victory for the government. It will be a real achievement if the atmosphere created in this UP poll can lead to an 11th general election at an earlier date.

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